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Translator’s note: An excerpt from Heiner Mueller’s 1961 play Tractor:

The feeling of failure, the consciousness of defeat during the reading of old texts is
thorough. The attempt, to cast the failure on the material, the material (a cannibalistic
vocabulary – “We are such stuff as dreams are made of” [in English]), to the history of
the amputated hero: it can happen to anyone, it signifies nothing: for one blood-poisoning
suffices, the other is luckier, he needs a war. Refuge [Ausflucht]: Europa is a ruin, in the
ruins the dead are not counted. Truth is concrete, I breathe stones. People, which do their
work, so that they can buy their bread, have no time for such considerations. But what’s
hunger to me. Irrecuperability [Uneinholbarkeit] of the process [Vorgang] through the
description; incompatibility of writing and reading; expulsion of the reader out of the
text. Puppets, stuffed with words instead of with sawdust. Heart-flesh. The need for a
language, which noone can read, increases. Who is noone. A speech without words. Or
the disappearance of the world into words. Instead of the lifelong compulsion to watch,
the bombardment of the images (tree house woman). The eyelids blown away. The
opposite out of the gnashing of teeth, fires and song. The garbage-pail of literature in the

The dissolution of the world into images

Translator’s note: Below are two prose excerpts from Mueller’s play Zement, completed
in 1972 (note that the choppy sentence-fragments at the end of the second part are
reproduced exactly as in the original):

Prometheus, who delivered lightning to humanity, but did not teach them how to use it
against the gods, because he partook of the meals of the gods, which would have been
less sumptuous if shared with humanity, was fastened because of his deed or conversely
because of his dismissal from the service of the gods by Hephaestos the blacksmith to the
Caucasus, where a dog-headed eagle devoured his perpetually growing liver every day.
The eagle, who considered him a partially edible, rock-encrusted meal which
occasionally gave rise to discordant song while being eaten, also emptied itself on him.
The excrement was his nourishment. He passed it further, transformed into his own
excrement, to the stone beneath him, so that when Hercules, his liberator, climbed the
desolate mountain after three thousand years, he could already discern the fettered one
from a great distance, shimmering white from bird excrement, however, thrown back
again and again by the wall of stench, circled around the massif for another three
thousand years, while the dog-headed one continued to eat the liver of the fettered one
and nourished him with its excrement, so that the stench increased to the same extent that
the liberator got used to it. Finally, favored by a rain which lasted five hundred years,
Hercules was able to draw within shooting distance. There he held his nose with one
hand. Three times he missed the eagle, because he had involuntarily closed his eyes,
dazed by the waves of stench which struck him when he took the hand from his nose to
draw the bow. The third arrow slightly wounded the fettered one on the left foot, the
fourth killed the eagle. Prometheus, it is said, wept for the eagle, his only companion for
three thousand years and provider for three thousand years twice over. Am I supposed to
eat your arrows, he screamed and, forgetting that he had known other nourishment: can
you fly, peasant, with your feet of dung. And vomited from the stall-odor which hung
about Hercules, ever since he had cleansed the stalls of Augeas, because the dung stank
to Heaven. Eat the eagle, said Hercules. But Prometheus could not understand the
meaning of his words. He probably knew, too, that the eagle had been his last connection
with the gods, his daily blow of the beak their memory for him. More agitated than ever
in his fetters he cursed his liberator as a murderer and tried to spit in his face. Hercules,
bent over with disgust, sought meanwhile the fetters, with which the raging one was
fastened to his prison. Time, weather and excrement had made flesh and metal
indistinguishable from each other, both out of stone. Loosened by the violent movements
of the fettered one they became visible. It turned out that they were already eaten away
by rust. Only at his sex were the fetters intertwined with flesh, because Prometheus had
occasionally masturbated, at least during his first two thousand years on the rock. Later
he had even forgotten his sex. The liberation left a scar. Prometheus could have easily
freed himself, if he had not feared the eagle, defenseless and exhausted from the
millennia as he was. His behavior during the liberation showed that he feared freedom
more than the bird. Howling and foaming at the mouth, with claws and teeth, he defended
his fetters against the onslaught of the liberator. Freed, on hands and knees, howling in
the misery of the continuation with benumbed appendages, he screamed for his peaceful
place on the stone, under the wing of the eagle, with no other change of scenery than the
one provided by the gods through occasional earthquakes. Even after he could finally
stand upright, he averted himself against the descent like an actor who doesn’t want to
leave the stage. Hercules had to haul him off on his shoulders. The descent to humanity
lasted another three thousand years. While the gods tore the mountains to bits of earth, so
that the descent through the frenzy of stone chunks was more like a fall, Hercules bore
his precious haul so that it did not come to harm, like a child tucked away on his arm.
Clasped to the neck of the liberator, Prometheus told him the direction of the missiles in a
soft voice, so that they could avoid most of them. In the meantime he insisted on his
innocence of the liberation, screaming aloud to the Heavens, which was obscured by the
frenzy of stones. There followed the suicide of the gods. One after the other threw
themselves from Heaven onto the back of Hercules and disintegrated into thunder.
Prometheus worked himself back to a place on the shoulder of the liberator and struck the
pose of the victor, riding on a steed lathered with sweat towards the jubilation of the

[Second excerpt from Zement]:

Hercules 2 or the Hydra

For long he believed he was still striding through the forest, in the numbingly warm
wind, which seemed to blow from all sides and move the trees like snakes, following the
barely visible blood-trail of the regularly pulsing ground in an always similar twilight,
alone in the battle with the animal. In the first days and nights, or were they only hours,
how could he measure the time without the sky, he even asked himself sometimes, what
might be under the ground, which beat in waves underneath his footsteps so that it
seemed to breathe, how thin the skin over the unknown thing beneath and how long
would it would hold it back from the entrails of the world. When he stepped more
carefully, it seemed to him as if the ground, which he had believed would yield to his
weight, approached his foot and even drew it to itself, with a sucking movement. He also
had the clear feeling that his feet were getting heavier. He counted the possibilities. 1)
His feet were getting heavier and the ground was sucking at his feet. 2) He felt his feet
getting heavier, because the ground sucked at them. 3) He had the impression that the
ground sucked at his feet, because they had gotten heavier. The question preoccupied him
for a length of time (years hours minutes). He found the answer in the increasing feeling
of vertigo, caused by the concentrically blowing wind: his feet were not getting heavier,
the ground was not sucking at his feet. The one like the other was a perceptual illusion,
determined by his falling blood pressure. This relieved him and he went faster. Or did he
merely believe he was going faster. When the wind increased, he was lashed by trees and
branches more often on the face neck hands. The touch was at first rather pleasant, a
caress or as if they were testing, although superficially and without particular interest, the
texture of his skin. Then the forest seemed to thicken, the kind of touch changed, the
caressing became a measuring. Like at the tailor’s, he thought, when the branch
circumscribed his head, then the neck, then the breast, the waist etc., the forest seemed to
be interested even in his step, until it had taken his measure from head to toe. The
automatic nature of the proceedings irritated him. Who or what directed the movements
of these trees, branches or whatever else out there was interested in his hat number collar
width shoe size. Could this forest, which resembled no forest he knew, had “walked
through”, be named a forest at all. Perhaps he himself had been underway too long, a
geological epoch too long, and forests were simply and purely what this forest was.
Perhaps it was only a matter of the naming of a forest and all other characteristics had
long since become invalid and interchangeable, even the animal which he meant to
slaughter by striding through this factuality [Gegebenheit: condition], provisionally
named the forest, the monster to be killed, which had transformed time into an excrement
in space, was still only the naming of something no longer recognizable with a name
from an old book. Only he, the unnamed one, had remained the same in his long sweat-
inducing path to the battle. Or was what walked on his legs over the increasingly faster
dancing ground also a different one than he. He was still thinking about it, when the
forest once more gripped him. The factuality studied his skeleton, the number, strength,
arrangement, function of the bones, the linking of the joints. The operation was painful. It
was difficult not to scream. He threw himself forwards in a quick spurt out of the pincers
[Umklammerung: embrace]. He knew, he’d never run faster. He did not get any further,
the forest kept up with the tempo, he remained in the pincers, which locked around him
and pressed his entrails together, his bones rubbed against each other, how long could be
stand the pressure, and understood, in the rising panic: the forest was the animal, for
some time now the forest he thought he was walking through had been the animal, which
bore him in the tempo of his steps, the ground-waves were his gasps and the wind his
breath, the trail which he followed was his own blood, of which the forest, which was the
animal, since when, how much blood does a human being have, took its sample; and that
he had always known it, only not by name. Something like a lightning-bolt without
beginning or end described a white-hot current of electricity through his veins and nerve-
stems. When the pain overwhelmed the controls over his bodily functions, he heard
himself laugh. It sounded like relief: no more thought, that was the battle. Adapting to the
movements of the enemy. Avoiding them. Anticipating them. Meeting them. Adapting
oneself and not adapting. Adapting by not adapting. Avoiding by attacking. Attacking by
avoiding. Anticipating the first blow grab thrust cut and avoiding the second. The other
way around. The sequence changes and does not change. Meeting the attack with the
same movement and (or) a different one. The patience of the ocean and the violence of
the axe. He had never counted his hands. Nor did he need to count them now. Wherever
he needed them, they performed his work, fists at the ready, each finger individually
usable, the nails separated, the edges from the elbows. His feet held fast to the
increasingly quickly rotating ground, which was rebelling against gravitation, the
personal union of enemy and battlefield, the lap which wanted to hold him. The old
equation. Every lap he somehow ended up in, wanted at some point to be his grave. And
the old song. Oh stay with me and do not go Next to my heart is the most beautiful place.
Scansioned by the cracking of his spine in the motherly chokehold. Death to the mothers.
His teeth recalled a time before the knife. In the confusion of the tentacles, which could
not be distinguished from the rotating knifes and axes, the rotating knives and axes, not
from the tentacles, the knives axes tentacles, not from the exploding minefields carpet-
bombing neon signs bacterial cultures, knives axes tentacles minefields carpet-bombing,
not from his own hands feet teeth in the provisional battle which is named space-time out
of blood gelatin flesh, such that the blows against the substance of the self which
occasionally occurred, the pain or conversely the sudden increase of incessant pain in
what was no longer perceptible was his sole barometer, in permanent annihilation leading
always anew back to its smallest components, always assembling anew out of his ruins in
permanent reconstruction, sometimes he put himself together wrong, left hand on right
arm, hip-bone on upper arm-bone, due to haste or lack of attention or confused by the
voices, which sang in his ears, choruses of voices stay in line relax already give up or
because he was bored always putting the same hand on the same arm trimming
constantly-growing tentacles shrunken heads bowties, standing up on the stumps, pillars
out of blood; sometimes he delayed his reconstruction, waiting eagerly for total
annihilation with hope in nothingness, the unending pause, or out of fear of victory,
which could only be won by the total annihilation of the animal, which was his residence,
except perhaps for the nothingness which waited for him or for noone; in the white
silence, which announced the beginning of the final round, he learned to read the always
different building-plan of the machine, which he was stopped being was again different
with every glance grasp step, and that he thought changed wrote it with the handwriting
of his labors and deaths.

Translator’s notes: This brief text, written in the 1960s, is a parody of the GDR
institution of the public suggestion-box, wherein citizens deposited anonymous
complaints, observations, and pleas to the local Party committee, in the hopes that some
higher official might take up their case.
TO THE MOUNTAIN-CLIMBERS. An inhabitant of the cottages begs humbly for your
esteemed attention. Perhaps, when you put a hand over your eyes, you still see us. Or
have you risen so high, that you cannot discern our tiny village anymore, the
impoverished settlements with the freshly-painted window-shutters, nestled under the
new churches, filled to the brim on holidays, is it only the clouds, which block your
columns from the gaze of the curious, or the morning fog? O Divine Ones, wending dry
feet over the rain with nailed shoes, read a mass for us on the mountaintop! Incidentally
why ever did you take the umbrellas with you? At least send down the lift again, if you
no longer need it, your Highnesses.



A bed is lowered from the flies and stood upright. Two female characters with death-
masks bring a girl on stage and position her with the back to the bed. Dressing of the
bride. With the girdle of the bridal dress she is tied to the bed. Two male characters with
death-masks bring the groom and place him facing the bride. He stands on his head,
walks on his hands, turns cartwheels before her etc.; she laughs soundlessly. He tears the
bridal dress and takes his place on the bride. Projection: sexual act. With the scraps of the
bridal clothes the male death-masks tie the hands and the female death-masks the feet of
the bride to the bed. The rest serves as a gag. While the man stands on his head before the
(female) audience, walks on his hands, turns cartwheels etc., the belly of the woman
swells, until it bursts. Projection: birth-act. The female death-masks pull a child from the
belly of the woman, loosen her hand-bindings, lay the child in her arms. Simultaneously
the male death-masks have hung so many weapons on the man, that he can only continue
to move on all fours. Projection: act of killing. The woman takes her face off, tears the
child apart and throws the pieces in the direction of the man. Out of the flies falls rubble
limbs intestines on the man.


Translator’s notes: The asterisked lines mark a German translation from Shakespeare,
whose original line reads: “But look, the morn in russet mantle clad/ walks o’er the dew
of yon high eastward hill.” All italics are rendered as in the original.


Where is the tomorrow which we saw yesterday

The early bird sings all through the night

Cloaked in the red mantle the morning treads*
Through the dew which shines in its path like blood*

I read, what I have written three, four, twenty years ago, like the text of a dead author,
from a time, when a death still fit into verse. The murderers have ceased to scan their
victims. I remember my first attempt to write a play. The text was lost in the confusion of
the postwar years. It began with the (young) hero standing in front of the mirror and
trying to find out, which road the worms would take through his flesh. At the end he
stood in the cellar and sliced up his father. In the century of Orestes and Elektra which
dawns, Oedipus will be a comedy.


Translator’s notes: Description of a Picture was written in 1981. Mueller wrote the below
introduction, which casts an intriguing light on Mueller’s later technique of writing
transcripts of “interviews” with himself. As much of the original word-order and
typography have been reproduced as possible; any necessary explanations (obscure
references, untranslatable puns, etc.) are marked in square brackets.

DESCRIPTION OF A PICTURE can be read as a painting over of Alcestis [play by

Euripides], which cites the Noh-drama KUMASAKA, the 11th Canto of the Odyssey,
Hitchcock’s The Birds and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The text describes a landscape
beyond death. The action goes any way you like, since the consequences are past,
explosion of a memory in an extinct dramatic structure.


A landscape between steppe and savanna, the sky Prussian blue, two enormous clouds
swim therein, as if held together by wire frame, albeit of an unknown construction, the
leftmost larger one could be an inflatable animal from an amusement park, torn loose
from its moorings, or a piece of Antarctica homewards bound, on the horizon a flat
mountain range, to the right in the landscape a tree, on closer inspection there are three
trees of various height, mushroom-shaped, trunk next to trunk, perhaps out of one root,
the house in the foreground more industrial product than handcrafted, probably cement: a
window, a door, the roof covered by the foliage of the tree, which stands in front of the
house, overgrowing it, it belongs to a different species than the group of trees in the
background, its fruit looks like it might be edible, or suited to poison guests, a glass bowl
on a garden-table, still half in the shadow of the tree’s crown, holding six or seven
examples of the citrus-like fruit ready, from the position of the table, a crude piece of
handiwork, the crossed legs are rough-hewn young birch saplings, it can be concluded,
that the sun, or whatever casts light on this area, stands at the moment of the picture at its
zenith, perhaps THE SUN is standing there forever and IN ETERNITY: one cannot tell
from the picture if it is moving, even the clouds, if they are clouds, are perhaps
swimming in place, the wire frame their attachment to a stained blue plank with the
arbitrary designation SKY, a bird perches on a tree limb, the foliage hides its identity, it
can be a vulture or a peacock or a vulture with a peacock’s head, gaze and beak aimed at
a woman, who takes up the right half of the picture, her head divides the sweep of the
mountains, the face is soft, very young, the nose overlong, with a swelling at the root,
perhaps from the blow of a fist, the gaze aimed at the ground, as if it cannot forget a
picture and or does not want to see another, the hair long and straggled, blond or greyish
white, the harsh light permits no distinction, the clothing a moth-eaten fur coat, tailored
for broader shoulders, over a threadbare thin shirt, probably made of linen, from the right
sleeve greatly frayed at one point a fragile lower arm raises a hand to the level of the
heart, that is to say the left breast, a gesture of defense or from the language of deaf-
mutes, the defense wards off a familiar terror, the blow kick stab has occurred, the shot
fired, the wound no longer bleeds, the repetition strikes the void, where fear has no place,
the face of the woman becomes legible, if the second assumption is right, a rat-face, an
angel of the rodents, the jaws grind the corpses of words and the garbage of speech, the
left jacket-sleeve hangs in tatters as if after an accident or assault of something which
tears, animal or machine, strange, that the arm is not injured, or are the brown flecks on
the sleeve congealed blood, does the gesture of the long-fingered right hand manifest pain
in the left shoulder, does the arm hang so limply in the sleeve, because it is broken, or
crippled by a flesh-wound, the base of the arm’s hand is cut off by the edge of the picture,
the hand could be a claw, a (perhaps blood-encrusted) stump or a hook, the woman stands
up to her knees in nothingness, amputated by the edge of the picture, or does she grow
out of the ground like the man steps from the house and disappears inside like the man in
the house, until the one unceasing motion is put in gear which explodes the frame, the
flight, the drive-work raining roots clods of earth and ground-water, visible between
glance and glance, if the eye SEEING ALL closes itself squinting over the picture,
between tree and woman wide open the large single window, the drapes are blowing out,
the storm seems to come from the house, no trace of wind in the trees, or is the woman
attracting the storm, or summoning it up by her appearance, which has waited for her in
the ashes of the fireplace, who or what was burnt, a child, another woman, a lover, or are
the ashes her own actual remains, the body borrowed from the rich funds [aus dem
Fundus] of the cemeteries, the man in the door-opening, the right foot still halfway on the
threshold, the left already firmly on the brown grass-flecked soil, parched by an unknown
sun, holding in the right hand of the outstretched arm with a hunter’s grip, there where
one tears off the wings, a bird, the left hand, which is outfitted with overlong curved
flapping fingers, strokes the plumage, which the fear of death has ruffled, the beak of the
bird is torn open by a cry soundless to the observer, silent also for the bird in the tree, it
does not concern itself with birds, the skeleton of its fellow species on the black-veined
inner wall, visible through the rectangle of the window, which it cannot see from its place
on the tree, would have no message for it, the man smiles, his step is forceful, a dance-
step, it’s not clear if he has already seen the woman, perhaps he is blind, his smile the
caution of the blind, he sees with the feet, every stone, which his feet strikes, laughs at
him, or the smile of the murderer, who goes to work, what will happen on the table with
intertwined legs with the full fruit-bowl and the overturned smashed wine glass, in which
the remains of a black liquid still dribbles, spreading over the table and dripping over the
edge onto the ground under the table in pools, the high-backed chair in front has a
peculiarity: its four legs are bound with wire halfway up, as though to prevent it from
collapsing, a second chair lies tossed aside to the right behind the tree, the backrest
broken off, the wiring only a Z, not a rectangle, perhaps an earlier attempt at a
reinforcement, what sort of burden has broken the chair, rendered the other infirm, a
murder perhaps, or a wild sexual act, or both in one, the man on the chair, the woman on
him, his member in her sheath, the woman still weighed down by the grave-earth, out of
which she worked herself, in order to visit the man, by the ground-water, dripping from
her fur coat, her movement at first a soft rocking, then an increasingly violent riding, until
the orgasm presses the back of the man against the back of the chair, which gives way
with a crash, the back of the woman against the edge of the table, knocking over the wine
glass, the bowl laden with fruit starts to slide and, when the woman throws herself to the
front, her arms clasping the man, his arms under the fur coat clasping her, he biting into
her neck, she into his, comes once again to rest just before the edge along with the table,
or the woman on the chair, the man standing behind her, his hands thumb on thumb laid
around her neck, as if playing at first, only the middle fingers touch each other, then,
when the woman bolts upright against the back of the chair, her finger nails clawing into
his arm-muscles, the arteries of her neck and brow bulging, her head filling with blood,
the face turning blue-red [blaurot: connoting drunken red], her shuddering legs thrashing
against the flat of the table, the wine glass falls over, the bowl starts sliding, the strangler
closes the circle, thumb on thumb, finger on finger, until the hands of the woman fall
from his arms and the soft cracking of the larynx or the neckbone indicates the end of the
labor, perhaps it is now, when the man retrieves his hands, that the back of the chair gives
way under that once again dead weight or the woman falls forwards, with the blue-red
face on the wine glass, out of which a dark liquid, wine or blood, seeks its path to the
ground, or is the splayed shadow on the neck of the woman under the chin congruent
with a knife-cut, the streamers of dried blood from the neck-wide wound, black with
encrusted blood too the strands of hair to the right of the face, the trace of the left-handed
murderer on the doorstep, his knife writes from right to left, he will need it again, it
bulges in the material of his jacket, when the broken glass reassembles itself out of the
shards and the woman steps towards the table, no scar on the neck, or will it be the
woman, the thirsty angel, who bites open the throat of the bird and pours its blood from
the open neck into the glass, the nourishment of the dead, the knife is not for the bird, the
face of the man is the color of the ground up to the height of the eyes, brow and visible
hand, the other is hidden by the grasp in the plumage, are as white as paper, during labor
outdoors he seems to wear gloves, why not in the moment of the picture, and something
like a hat against the hot star, which illuminates the landscape and bleaches out its colors,
what can his labor be, aside from the perhaps daily murder of the perhaps daily
resurrected woman, in this landscape, animals appear only as clouds, not to be grasped by
hand, the bird in the tree is the last reserve, one trilling call will catch it, superfluous to
tear up the grass, the SUN, perhaps a multiplicity of SUNS, are burning it, the fruits of
the bird-tree are quickly plucked, have the flapping fingers of the strangler knitted the
steel net around the flat mountain range, out of which only one paper-white mountaintop
still juts out unprotected, protection from the falling rocks, loosed by the wandering of
the dead in the innermost earth, which are the secret pulse of the planet, the pulse is what
the picture means, protection with some prospect of duration perhaps, when the growth of
the cemeteries with the small weight of the presumed murderer on the threshold, of the
quickly digested bird in the tree, the wall [Wand: interior wall] has room for its skeleton,
has reached its limit, or does the movement reverse itself, when the dead are all present,
the murmur of the graves in the storm of the resurrection, which drives the snakes from
the mountain, is the woman with the secret glance and the mouth like a suction cup a
MATA HARI of the underworld, a scout, scouring the terrain, on which the Great
Maneuver is supposed to take place, which draws flesh over the starved bones, the flesh
with skin, criss-crossed with arteries, which drink blood from the ground, the return home
of the bowels out of nothingness, or is the angel hollow under the clothing, because the
shrinking flesh-bank under the ground no longer yields any more bodies, an EVIL
FINGER, which is held by the dead in the wind against the police of the heavens, pioneer
and BRIDE OF THE WIND, which wards off the wind of the natural enemies of the
resurrection in the flesh, which they inhabit, it blows like a storm into the trap, the arrow
of the drapes points to the woman, the murderer too is perhaps only a dead person on
duty, the annihilation of the birds his (secret) mission, the casual dance-step indicates the
end of the labor is soon, perhaps the woman is already on the return journey into the
earth, pregnant with storm, the seed of the rebirth out of the explosion of legs, bones and
splinters and marrow, the supply of wind marks the distance of the parts, out of which
perhaps, if the earthquake explodes them through the skin of the planet after the
relocation of breathable air the earthquake, THE WHOLE composes itself, the copulation
of the star through its dead ones, the first signal the clouds with the wire frame, which in
truth consists of nerves, which precede the bones, that is to say out of the fine-spun web
of bone-marrow, like the weaving without visible roots, which creaks towards the
bungalow and has already occupied the inner rooms up to the ceiling, or the wire tangle
of the chairs, or the net, which nails the sweep of the mountains to the ground, or
everything is different, the steel net the offhand flourish of a casual crayon, which denies
the mountains physical form with a sloppily conducted hatchwork, perhaps the caprice of
the composition follows a plan, is the tree standing on a tray, the roots cut off, are the
other trees in the background especially long-stemmed mushrooms, products of a climatic
zone, which does not have trees, how did the cement-block get into the landscape, no
trace of transport or vehicle, I TOLD YOU YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE COME BACK
DEAD IS DEAD, no skid mark, summoned out of thin air, fallen from the SKY, or
lowered out of air breathable only by the dead with a crane, which moves at a fixed point
in the SKY named over-there [Darueber: “hin und drueber” was a common reference to
the other half of Germany during the Cold War, used by East and West Germans alike], is
the sweep of the mountains a museum piece, on loan from an underground exhibition
room, in which the mountains are preserved, because in their natural place they hinder
low-flying angels, the picture an experimental arrangement, the roughness of the design
an expression of the contempt for the guinea pigs man, bird, woman, the blood-pump of
daily murder, man against bird and woman, woman against bird and man, bird against
woman and man, providing the planet with fuel, blood the ink, which describes its paper
life in color, even its sky threatened with anemia by the resurrection of the flesh, sought
after: the gaps in the procession, the other in the return of the same, the stutter in the
speechless text, the hole in eternity, the possibly redeeming MISTAKE: distracted gaze
of the murderer, when he tests the neck of the victim on the chair with the hands, with the
blade of the knife, on the bird in the tree, into the void of the landscape, hesitation before
the cut, eyes closed before the spray of blood, laughter of the woman, which for one
glimpse long loosens the stranglehold, making the hand with the knife tremble, sheer fall
of the bird, lured by the gleam of the blade, landing on the skull of the man, two beak-
jabs right and left, reeling and howling of the blinded one, blood spraying in the
whirlwind of the storm, which seeks the woman, fear, that the mistake occurred during
the blinking of the eyes, the observation slit into time opens between glance and glance,
hope dwells on the edge of a quickly rotating knife, with increasing attentiveness to the
point of exhaustion, lightning-like insecurity in the certainty of what horrifies: the
MURDER is an exchange of genders, ALIEN IN ONE’S OWN BODY, the knife is the
wound, the neck the axe, is the fallible supervision part of a plan, to which device is the
lens fastened, which sucks the color from the gaze, across which eye-socket is the retina
stretched, who OR WHAT asks about the picture, LIVING IN THE MIRROR [Spiegel:
literally mirror, but also the name of the leading German magazine], is the man with the
dance-step I [ICH: capitalized in original], his face my grave, I [ICH] the woman with the
neck wound, right and left in the hands the divided bird, blood in the mouth, I [ICH] the
bird, which shows the murderer the way into the night with the writing of its beak, I
[ICH] the frozen storm.


Translator’s notes: Mueller delivered the following speech upon receiving the Buechner
Prize in Darmstadt 1985.


For Nelson Mandela

Woyzeck is still shaving his captain, eating his proscribed peas, tormenting his Marie
with the dullness of his love, his population turned into a state, surrounded by ghosts: the
Fusilier Runge is his bloody brother, proletarian tool of Rosa Luxemburg’s murderers;
his prison is called Stalingrad, where his victim faces him in the mask of Kriemhild; her
memorial stands on Mamaia Hill, her German monument, the Wall, in Berlin, the tank-
convoy of the revolution, curdled into politics. HIS MOUTH PRESSED TO THE
how Kafka saw him disappear from the stage, after the fratricide WITH EFFORT
BITING BACK HIS UTMOST VOMIT. Or as the patient, which puts the doctor to bed,
with the wound open like a pit mine, out of which the maggots coil. Goya’s giant was his
first appearance, who sat in the mountains counting the hours of domination, father of the
guerilla. On a mural in a cloister-cell in Parma I’ve seen his severed feet, enormous in an
Arcadian landscape. Somewhere his body keeps swinging along perhaps by the hands,
perhaps shaking with laughter, into an unknown future, which is perhaps his
crossbreeding with the machine, driven against gravity in the roar of the rocket. In Africa
he’s still on his crusade into history, time no longer works for him, his hunger too is
perhaps no longer a revolutionary element, since it can be stilled with bombs, while the
drum-majors of the world devastate the planet, battlefield of tourism, emergency runway,
no glance at the fire, which the infantry soldier Franz Johann Christoph Woyzeck saw in
the sky over Darmstadt while whittling sticks for the running of the gauntlet. Ulrike
Meinhof, daughter of Prussia and latterday bride of another foundling of German
literature, who buried himself on the Wannsee, protagonist of the last drama of the
bourgeois world, the armed RETURN OF THE YOUNG COMRADE OUT OF THE
LIMESTONE QUARRY, is his sister with the bloody necklace of Marie.

A text bruised many times by the theater, which happened to a twenty-three-year-old,
who had the eyelids at birth cut away by the Fates, dynamited by fever into orthography,
a structure like one originating during fortune-telling on New Year’s [Bleigiessen:
“pouring of lead”, New Year’s ritual where fortunes are told by pouring hot lead into cold
water], when the hand trembles with the spoon before the look into the future, blocking
the entrance into Paradise like some sleepless angel, in which the innocence of writing
plays found its home. How harmless the baby bust [Pillenknick: “pill-crease”, idiomatic
term for the fall in birth-rate due to the pill] of recent drama, Becketts WAITING FOR
GODOT, before this quick thunderstorm, which arrives with the speed of another time,
Lenz packed in the baggage, the quenched lightning-bolt from Livonia, the era of Georg
Heym, in the space without a utopia under the ice of the Havel, Konrad Bayer in the
disemboweled skull of Vitus Bering, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann in the right-hand turn before
SHAKESPEARE’S PUB, how shameless the lie of POSTHISTOIRE [French: post-
history] before the barbaric reality of our prehistory.

THE HEINE-WOUND begins to scar over, crookedly; WOYZECK is the open wound.
Woyzeck lives where the dog is buried [idiomatic term meaning, there’s the fly in the
ointment, there’s the rub], the dog is named Woyzeck. We await his resurrection with
fear and/or hope, that the dog returns as a wolf. The wolf comes from the south. When
the sun stands at its zenith, it is one with our shadow, history, in the hour of sunburst,
begins. Not until history has happened is the common downfall into the frost of entropy
worthwhile, or, abbreviated by politics, in the atomic flash, which will be the end of
utopias and the beginning of a future beyond humanity.


Translator’s notes: This is the introduction to Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome, Mueller’s
last completed play.

UNITY OF THE TEXT: Commentary, as a means of bringing the reality of the author
into play, is drama, not description and should not be delegated to a story-teller. It can be
recited by a chorus; by the actor in relation to the figure in question; by the actor in
relation to another figure, who stands in this or that or no relation at all to the figure in
question. The expression of emotions can, as in Japanese theater, be undertaken by a
commentator (speaker or chorus); the report of the proceedings they set in motion, by the
actor. The repertory of roles (positions) which the commentary makes available (audience
voyeur overseer reporter introductory speaker stage-whisperer whip-master sparring-
partner wailing-woman [woman paid to wail at funerals] shadow doppelganger ghost) is
open to everyone participating in the play. Every actor can be immune to/subjugated by
the emotions which the text articulates/silences. No monopoly on roles masks gestures
texts, epification no privilege; to each the chance to alienate themselves. Titus
Commentary throws the dice with accidental materials, the field of action is provisional,
the coordinates are fear and geometry. (The emergency begins, when the coordinates
explode the horrors of the day). The theatrification of reality through politics as
dependence on technology throws the theater back into its reality, whose tempo is the
stoppered [gebremste: braked] explosion. The cancerous course of life in capital or
alternately its coexistence with it on the same underground-honeycombed planet (it flies
into superficiality, in the underground chambers grows death) tears the binding of the
actors to the/their private property: they no longer play a role. Expropriation =
emancipation of the actor as the condition of theater’s survival. The body the compass-
needle: the gesture dispenses with its functions (blood-pressure temperature) in the
unknown landscape, which is perhaps a landscape beyond death or a place on the fringe.
The text the knife, which loosens the tongues of the dead on the test-bed of anatomy;
theater writes road-signs in the blood-swamps of the ideas. If the commentator is given
the role of the leader of the dead, the learning-process of the dead must be shown, death
as a task, DISMEMBER REMEMBER [in English], a lesson which must be learnt,
training in the resurrection (be it out of the forest of pages against the idiots of critique).
In the belly of tragedy lurks farce, a virus from the future. When the larva emerges, blood
flows instead of sawdust. Death as embryo (Ibsen’s tidings). Or reversed: God is the
zombie, which brings the messiah to the world, his death the condition of the birth.
Monuments can be employed as demonstrations of amputations and deaths, larger or
smaller than life-size, on which the level of devastation is noted. Fodder for the new
animal, which populates the audience-hall, in the process of superseding humanity, or
information for visitors from outer space, a message in a bottle for more fortunate
galaxies. Theater as midwife of archeology: the relevance of art for today is tomorrow.


Translator’s notes: This is a speech Mueller gave at the Shakespeare festival in Weimar
on April 23, 1988.


Attempt to write about Shakespeare between Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Genoa. The horror
of formulation grows along with the stack of notes. Nearest to Shakespeare in Genoa, by
night in the medieval center of the city and near the harbor. Narrow alleys, in medieval
times they were chained off against the people, between the palaces of the aristocracy of
the city-state, the Dorias for example, which Udo Lindenberg has popularized. On the
wall of a house the spray-painting: WELCOME TO HELL NO PITY HERE [in English].
The entire thing like the path to the GLOBE in Giordano Bruno’s description, past bars
bordellos murder-pits. Memory of the first reading: HAMLET from the school library, in
spite of the teacher’s warning to the thirteen-year-old concerning the difficulty of the
original. A black leather binding, the stamp of the former high school of the grand duchy
on the title page. I suspected more than I understood; the leap drives experience, not the
step. The play itself is the attempt to describe an experience which has no reality in the
era of the description. An end-game in the rosy dawn of an unknown day. BUT LOOK,
HIGH EASTWARD HILL. Nearly four hundred years later a different kind of reading:

In between lies, for my generation, the long march through the Hells of the
Enlightenment, through the blood-swamps of the ideologies. Hitler’s geographical lapsus:
genocide in Europe instead of, in keeping with standard practice past and present, Africa
Asia America. The St. Vitus’ dance of the dialectic in the Moscow trials. The lidless gaze
of the reality of the work- and extermination-camps. The village-against-the-city utopia
of Pol Pot, reader of Hegel and connoisseur of Verlaine. The belated Jewish revenge on
the wrong object, the classic case of retroactive obedience. The lockjaw of a shattered
party suddenly stricken with victory, in the context of the power given to it or arrogated
to it in the ration-economy [Mangelwirtschaft] of real socialism. THE SCARS CRY OUT
clinch of revolution and counter-revolution as the fundamental figure of the mammoth
catastrophes of the 20th century. Shakespeare is a mirror through time, our hope is a
world he no longer reflects. We have not yet arrived at ourselves, so long as Shakespeare
writes our plays. The opening lines of MIRANDAS SONG [in English] from Audens
LONELY [in English] is a Shakespeare-metaphor, which reaches beyond Shakespeare.
NO MORE HEROES / NO MORE SHAKESPEAROS goes the chorus of a punk-song.

A Hoelderlin-fragment describes Shakespeare at his most chthonic [unerloesten:

unredeemed, awaiting transfiguration]: WILDSTRAINING / IN THE FEARSOME
ARMOR / MILLENIA. Shakespeare’s wilderness. What is he waiting for, why in armor,
and for how much longer. Shakespeare is a secret, why should I be the one to give it
away, provided that I knew it, and why in Shakespeare-distant Weimar. I accepted the
invitation and now stand before you, sand in my hands, it runs through my fingers.
HAMLET is a favored object of the interpreters. For Eliot the Mona Lisa of literature, a
miscarried play; the remains of the revenge-drama, a market-driven genre of its era just
like today’s horror film, stiffly extrude into the new construction, hindering
Shakespeare’s material from developing. A discourse which the silence breaks. The
dominance of monologue is no accident: Hamlet has no partner. For Carl Schmitt a
consciously, due to political grounds, confused and obscure text, begun in the reign of
Elizabeth, completed after the seizure of power of the first Stuart, son of a mother who
married the murderer of her husband and who died under the axe, a Hamlet-figure. The
break-in of time into the play constitutes mythos. Mythos is an aggregate, a machine, to
which ever new and different machines can be connected. It transports energy, until its
ever-increasing acceleration explodes the realm of culture. My first hurdle in the reading
was Horatio’s disconcerting speech, disconcerting in the mouth of a student of
Wittenberg, during the entrance of the dead on the coast of Helsingoer. IN THE MOST
ALMOST TO DOOMSDAY WITH ECLIPSE… History in the context of nature.
Shakespeare’s gaze is the gaze of the epoch. Never before had interests been so nakedly
displayed, without the fold of the weave, the costuming of the ideas. MEN HAVE DIED
LOVE. The dead have their place on his stage, nature has the right to vote. That means,
in the language of the 19th century, which is still a conference-language between the Oder
and the Elbe; Shakespeare has no philosophy, no sense of history: his Romans are from
London. In the meantime the war of the landscapes which work for the disappearance of
the human beings which ravaged them is no longer a metaphor. Gloomy times, when a
conversation about trees is practically a crime. The times have become brighter, the
shadows have gone out, a crime now to be silent over trees. The terror emanating from
Shakespeare’s reflections is the recurrence of the same. A terror, which drove Nietzsche,
the godforsaken pastor’s son, out of the misery of the philosophies into his sword-dance
with ghosts from the future, from the silence of the academies to the red-hot high-wire of
AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW. The stress is on the And, the truth travels in
the lower berths, the abyss is the hope. Wassili Grossman portrayed Stalin, the deserved
murderer of the people, as Brecht called him, as having visions of the murdered Trotsky,
creator of the Red Army and executioner of Kronstadt, return a thousand-fold in the
German tank wreckage piled up outside Moscow. A Shakespeare-variation: Macbeth sees
Banquos ghost, and a difference. Our task, lest the rest become statistics and a mere
matter for computers, is the labor of difference. Hamlet, the failure, did not achieve it,
this is his crime. Prospero is the undead Hamlet: at least he breaks his staff, in reply to
Caliban’s, the new Shakespeare reader’s, still-relevant reproach on all hitherto existing


Translator’s note: Heiner Mueller gave the following brief address at the rally in 1989
which marked the revolution against the one-party state in the GDR; rather than
haranguing the crowd, he read an appeal from a group of independent trade unions. After
he was done, the crowd booed lustily, dismissing any talk of class struggle as Communist
propaganda. Five years of ruthless neoliberalism and twenty percent unemployment
would soon show Heiner and the trade union activists were on the mark after all.
One of the results of the GDR’s political system has been the separation of artists from
the population through privileges. We need solidarity instead of privileges. I’d like to
read the call for an initiative for independent unions:

“Friends [Kolleginnen und Kollegen], what has the FDGB done for us in 40 years? Has it
pressed the question of reducing working hours to the directors of firms? Why hasn’t it
fought for the 40-hour-week with us? Has it even attempted to ensure that our wages
keep pace with the rise in inflation? Why aren’t there negotiations to increase wages?
Where does the FDGB stand when it comes to the new quotas being introduced in our
firms? On our side? Do they hold up the norms, when it becomes clear that we should
also be paid correspondingly? How can the FDGB in good conscience claim to represent
our interests when we have 10 days fewer days of vacation on average than our Western
colleagues? Has the FDGB come out for the lowering of the retirement age? Have we
ever seen the union leadership refuse to accept the state plan in our interest? Have we yet
ever experienced a moment when the union gets something done for us, even if it’s
against the wishes of the Party and the state? Forty years without our own organization
are enough. We must not allow ourselves to be organized, not even by new men and
women. We must organize ourselves. The next few years won’t be a picnic for us.
They’re going to tighten the thumbscrews on us. Prices will rise and wages will stagnate.
When subsidies are swept away, that will affect us most of all. The Government demands
performance. Soon it will threaten us with unemployment. We’re the ones who are
supposed to set things aright. If the living standards of most of us are not to be lowered,
we need our own representatives. Found independent unions.”

May I add one personal note: if the Government finally collapses by next week, dancing
will be permitted at demonstrations.

Germany placeless. Remarks on Kleist.
Speech given at the reception of the Kleist-Prize.

I beg pardon in advance for the fact that I will not say much about Kleist today. Too
many contemporary events keep me from doing so: mourning for what is past, rage over
what was omitted, affects, which from the (prevailing) standpoint of the economy are a
luxury, but we live/work for luxury, the curiosity for what is coming. And my apologies
if this becomes a monologue, I have more questions than answers and no time for
polemics. A time-wall has fallen, and all of us stand so to speak overnight in a room with
unknown dimensions, rather like the situation of someone who is blind, who makes the
discovery at a busy intersection that their guide-dog no longer sees, or, if you will, like
Carl Schmitt’s notorious-infamous dog on the highway, in any case in a Kleistian
situation. The figure of the ghost-driver [Geisterfahrer: also wrong-way driver] belongs to
the highway. An uncanny sentence from Brecht’s Fatzer-fragment, which I can’t get out

For the Rheinlander Adenauer the Elbe was an Asiatic border-river. The cold shower
during the crossing of an Elbe bridge going east determined his politics, which handed
over the hammer to the Saxon Ulbricht, with which he could nail East and Central
Germany to the cross of Stalinism, or, less pathetically and closer to the truth, which gave
the prisoners of Stalin the possibility, of holding the population of the colony GDR
[German Democratic Republic, formal name for East Germany] (named OUR HUMAN
BEINGS) in the imagined holding-pattern of REAL EXISTING SOCIALISM, a word-
monstrosity, Walter Benjamin’s picture of Stalinism, in one of his futile Svendborger
conversations with Brecht, as the SURFACING OF A HORNED FISH OUT OF THE
OCEAN DEEP is more exact. The result was the fatal delay of German unity, the tempo
of the final sprint underscores the fatality, because it puts repression once more in the
place of experience and the push towards emancipation is caught in a new, economically
dominated holding-pattern. The Prussia of Heinrich von Kleist is an earthquake zone,
threatened by fault-lines, dwelling in the cleft between West and East Rome, Rome and
Byzantine, which wends in irregular curves throughout Europe, visible in lightning-
flashes, when after the loss of a binding religion or ideology the old tribal fires are
rekindled anew. A cleft, into which Poland for example has always disappeared again.

The Prussian alliance with Russia against Napoleon was in the light of later history a
decision against Europe. The all too late attempt (history always happens for Germans at
the wrong time, too late or too early) in 1848 to set foot in Europe, ended logically in the
national and class compromise of the German military machine according to the
and two world wars. The sentence of the young Marx THE GERMANS ALWAYS
called wars of liberation against Napoleon, the last figure of a European central-
perspective. Kleist, against all familial or patriotic inhibitions, knew it in Guiscard, the
fragment of a tragedy and the tragedy of a fragment. Afterwards absolute painting began
with Goya, which was a reflex of the transformation of the globe into a map,
emigration/exile out of time into space, according to the Kleist-model of the Marionette
theater, experienced by Nietzsche as the death of God, by Marx at an almost
contemporaneous moment as the possibility of the birth of human beings beyond the
economy, in truth the first step, which perhaps, if one starts out from the increasing
uninhabitability of the planet, is a step forwards, towards the sublation of human beings
in space-time, in the marriage of human being and machine.

A digression on Kleist: during the reading of his letters the feeling, not without horror, of
an enormous distance, of a distance also to his own texts, his own labor, which is not
addressed to persons, not to a public, Goethe’s reproach, not to a market. Kafka, the first
Bolshevist author, has formulated the distance. WRITTEN KISSES ARE IMBIBED BY
THE GHOSTS. It is not only a question of anonymous spy-agencies or the censorship of
letters. The era of letters and of diaries as the expression of sensations ends with
electronics, everyone their own stool-pigeon, art is the last autonomy, perhaps the last
realm of what is humane, works of art are at most letters to unknown addresses, if need
be from other galaxies. Another citation from Brecht’s Fatzer-material, written in the
expectation of Hitler and Stalin, Auschwitz and the gulag: WE HOWEVER / INTEND
no letters, except for the telefax, which dissolves the person. As a result of his
observation of the failed German attempt of 1848, to catch up with the French
Revolution, which took place in Germany only in literature, as sublimation, the Spanish
diplomat Donoso Cortez, not free of racism, saw the main danger for Europe in the
coming alliance of the Slavic world and socialism. This alliance was, from a different
perspective, out of the insight into the molding of Russian politics through Tataric
invasion, the nightmare of Karl Marx. The nightmare realized itself in REAL EXISTING
SOCIALISM. The contemporary return of the same: in the GDR the Soviet occupation
prevented the civil war, which would have been the condition of a true revolution, that is
to say, substituted for it through bureaucratic terror; the Federal Republic [of Germany:
the FRG was the formal name for Western Germany], out of the natural interest in the
preservation of its own fragile conservative structure, nipped the second possible
revolution in the bud with the softer economic stranglehold of the market economy. The
bill for putting off class-struggle is the recoil into the atavism of race-struggles, which
will long continue to occupy us.

After the flight of departure into history out of the greed of the dramatist for catastrophes,
which perhaps, as the psychoanalysts maintain, come from a distorted relationship to life,
but who could live undisturbed, in view of the daily catastrophes, except an idiot or a
saint, again back to the very disturbed Kleist, for whom the fragile institution of the
world was the condition of his existence as an author and ultimately the grounds for
dissolving himself as a person. His fundamental metaphor, in the forcefield between
Europe and Asia, is the pillar of dust, the trope of total acceleration at a standstill, the eye
of the typhoon. The Mongol onslaught was a fundamental European experience,
refreshed in the East by the Soviet occupation, still and anon a memory, beyond the
confidence of the senile Hindenburg, when the great brakesman of the Russian steam-
roller at Tannenberg promoted Hitler, as his chosen son, into power. Even the definition
of Meister Eckhardt GOD IS THE WASTELAND seems inspired by the dream of the
break-in of the ridden steppe into the world of established German manufactures: God is
the Other, death comes from Asia. The grave of Genghis Khan is undiscoverable: the
Mongols had the habit of riding at length over the graves of their leaders, until they were
indistinguishable from plowed earth.

From the viewpoint of the stutterer Kleist: from the gradual preparation of thoughts
during speaking to the gradual preparation of silence during speaking. In 1961 the pillar
of dust turned into concrete, corrective against the whirlwind of the continents. After its
fall Europe stands unsheltered, exposed to the four winds. PENTHISILEA is an African
play, far beyond Hoelderlin’s orientalist Sophocles-interpretation, the elephants are no
ornament, they are the elephants, which Hannibal led over the Alps against Rome. A
sentence from Brecht on Hannibal: SOMEHOW HE JUST WASN’T INTERESTED IN
CARTHAGE. The detour is the drama, the orchestra the music. Kleist, in relation to
Goethe, the European and master of equilibrium, and Schiller, the German, who was a
transplanted politician, stands sharply at odds in relation to everything. At odds with his
material: Schroffenstein a crudity after Shakespeare, Kaethschen a colportage from the
Middle Ages, The Broken Jug a fortunate accident, the result of a bet, Homburg an army
report read against the grain. The problem, which becomes manifest in the lonely Kleist,
is called Germany, the figure of his longing was Napoleon/Guiscard. Shakespeare had the
Wars of the Roses, Goethe had to invent Goetz, Schiller Wallenstein. The representatives
of particular interests inflated into national figures, because there was no German history.
Lessing, the fortunate-unfortunate predecessor, had, against the resistance of the Prussian
province, where the Second Frederick played war, while France and England divided up
the world, his sights set at Europe. Leisewitz recounts, that Lessing told him, he never
dreamed. Thus could he stand Germany, which was always only a dream, no place, a
flight, no homeland, a beyond, which always again sought to legitimate itself out of its
dead, ultimately a realm of the dead. The desperate search for a national material winds
like a thread through the history of German dramatic literature. Example HERMANNS
BATTLE: a relatively inconsequential border-incident in the Roman Empire as national
mythos, in Kleist the drama of the guerilla. He deals with his material like a sexual
offender with a woman, in PENTHESILEA he changes roles, genders, in HOMBURG,
which circumscribes the history of Frederick the Great in a dream of Prussia, he comes to
rest. Goethe did not look favorably on the transformations, which he considered
necessary for the formation of a German national literature. Kleist would have been
curious at the coming Germany. It will not be only European.